New Seed Act sows destruction of farmers’ rightsView(s):
Environmental activists, scientists, grassroots farmers organisations and other concerned citizens have joined forces to mobilise opinion against a new Seed Act they say will undermine the rights of farmers from time immemorial and will threaten biodiversity. The draft ‘Seed and Planting Material Act No. … of 2013′ being contemplated by the Government will benefit the seed industry controlled by big multi-national corporations at the expense of the country’s small scale farmers who are the mainstay of the rural economy, critics say.
The new law will require among other things, the compulsory ‘registration’ of farmers and ‘certification’ of all seed and planting material in Sri Lanka by a Seed Certification Service run by the Department of Agriculture. A ‘Director in Charge’ of the subject shall exercise the exclusive right to certify seed and planting material. The Department will maintain and publish a list of producers and suppliers of ‘certified seed and planting materials.’ The draconian new law provides for officials to raid farmers’ premises to ensure compliance with its requirements. It says that no person shall “import, export, sell, offer to sell, dispose in any manner or supply or exchange with commercial intention seed and planting material except in accordance with the provisions of this Act.”
Sarath Fernando, Advisor and founding member of MONLAR (Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform) and a longtime farmers’ rights activist told the ‘Sunday Times’ “Under the new law officials will list out indigenous varieties (of seed). They have no right to do that, they don’t know. It’s the ordinary people who have the ability to adapt according to farming conditions, nutrition (needs) and cost-effectiveness.” Commenting on the law’s negative impact, he said, for example, it would render illegal the activities of the ‘Movement for Indigenous Seed’ whose work in conservation of seed/paddy varieties over 30 years has been praised by the Ministry of Agriculture. “The present law should be repealed” he said, referring to the draft.
“This kind of legislation is being pushed all over the world, an international plan, beneficial to big seed companies to take control.” Some of them have their agents in Sri Lanka, and promoting genetically modified seeds is part of their project. “In Sri Lanka there is a bid to promote a processed, hybrid type of seed called ‘Golden Rice,’ getting rid of the nutritious, indigenous rice varieties” Fernando said. This relates to the demands for ‘registration’ of small scale producers and ‘certification’ of seeds.
Although the law is couched in terms that suggest it will ‘safeguard and conserve the genetic resources of indigenous seed and planting materials,’ the comments of environmentalists indicate it will do just the opposite. This is because the practices of ‘monoculture’ and ‘uniformity’ favoured by big seed companies which benefit by this law, have the effect of destroying biodiversity. Vandana Shiva, an internationally known Indian environmental activist, physicist and author has drawn attention to the FAO’s finding that “more than 75% diversity in agriculture has been destroyed due to the spread of industrial monocultures.” (Monoculture refers to the cultivation of a single crop in a field.)
Dr Shiva has critiqued the Sri Lankan draft Seed Act, at MONLAR’s request. “Seed is the first link in the food chain” she writes. “It is both a result of farmers breeding over centuries, as well as the primary means of production. Any Act on seed that does not address farmers rights is anti farmer.
The Act should be Seed and Farmers Rights Act. The proposed Act is designed for the Seed Industry, which by promoting uniformity destroys indigenous biodiversity, and by promoting its rights, undermines farmers’ rights.”
Shiva argues that farmers should be exempted from all restrictions placed on commercial entities and the seed industry.She points out that the ‘Technical and Advisory Committee’ to be set up under the Act has no representative from the farming community, nor any biodiversity expert to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity. However, it has a genetic engineer, who should have “no role in a Seed Law.”
The new law also calls for the setting up of a ‘Seed and Planting Material Advisory Council’ which will “coordinate with public sector agencies in working towards the development of the private sector seed and planting material industry.” Shiva says, “Private Public partnerships mean public subsidies for private profits. The public system will provide genetic material, research, extension. The private sector will take the intellectual property rights and walk away with super profits.”
Crisis of ethics
Fernando says MONLAR’s position on the proposed Seed Act is in line with that of Shiva and ‘Navdanya,’ an environmental organisation with a focus on biodiversity conservation, of which Shiva is a founding member. Does the 2013 ‘Navdanya’ publication titled ‘The Law of the Seed’ in a sense anticipate Sri Lanka’s new Seed Act, when it says:
“… the dominant legislation today, related to seed, is in total violation of the Law of the Seed and democratic processes without any basis in jurisprudence or science. An arsenal of legal instruments are steadily being invented and imposed that criminalise age-old farmers’ seed breeding, seed saving and seed sharing. And this arsenal is being shaped by the handful of corporations which first introduced toxic chemicals into agriculture, and are now controlling the seed through genetic engineering and patents.”
‘The Law of the Seed’ goes deeper, in analysing the ethical dimension of the issue. When corporations take out patents on seed for instance, the farmers’ right to save and share seed is defined as ‘theft,’ or ‘an intellectual property crime.’”The freedom to save and exchange seed is vital in our time characterised by multiple crises — the biodiversity crisis, the water crisis, the food crisis, climate crisis, and the economic crisis, all of them part of a single crisis: a crisis of ethics and values.”